- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

ROME The United States is delaying its 2003 food pledges for North Korea amid "credible" reports that food is being diverted to the North's soldiers and political elite, a U.S. official said yesterday.
Tony Hall, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. food agencies, said he expected the United States would deliver food to the United Nations' World Food Program for distribution this year. But he said the United States was waiting for the agency to obtain further assurances it can get food to the people it is intended for.
"We are going to continue to be there, because we don't use food as a weapon," Mr. Hall told reporters. "But we are going to be darn sure that if we tell you where the food is supposed to be and you give it to someone else, then we're going to wait, and we're going to be darn sure that our food is getting through to the right people."
Washington has been the largest donor to the agency's North Korea projects, providing about $61 million worth of aid, or 172,700 tons of food, last year. The agency has appealed for $201 million for North Korea for 2003. Less than $15 million has been pledged. The European Union has offered aid, and Italy has made an additional pledge.
The United States has long maintained it keeps its political and food-aid relationships with North Korea separate. But the U.S. decision to delay its commitment for 2003 comes amid tensions about North Korea's nuclear program.
The Rome-based World Food Program warned that food shortfalls were affecting masses of hungry people in the eastern half of North Korea, and the prospect of more supplies in the near future remained bleak.
Gerald Bourke, an agency spokesman in Beijing, said the United States had no food aid scheduled for this year an assessment confirmed by Mr. Hall's office.
"This year, two months into 2003, we haven't pledged anything," a U.S. official in Rome said. "It's still just a question of timing. We will give, we just don't know when."
Mr. Hall said negotiations were under way to reach agreement on better monitoring for food once it reaches North Korea.
The World Food Program monitors distribution of its food. For years, there has been concern that food hasn't gotten to the people who need it most and that it has been diverted, but Mr. Hall said the latest reports of diversion were credible.
He said agency officials "try to follow the food, but what we're hearing is they will take the food out, and they will actually see the food being given to the people. The food program leaves, and [government officials] grab the food and take it from [the recipients]."
The diplomat said: "We're hearing reports that to me are starting to sound very credible that food is not getting to people as it should, and is being taken away from people and being diverted to the military and to the elite, which is something new."
Mr. Hall, a Democrat, has traveled to North Korea six times. He was named ambassador to the Rome-based U.N. food agencies after serving for 24 years as an Ohio congressman.

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